Posted by Dr Jarrod Bailey on 30th November 2018
Animals In Labs Are Stressed - And That’s Bad For Us Humans, Too…
Stress Inherent to Laboratory Life and Experiments Affects Not Just Welfare, but also the Reliability and Human Relevance of Results
Our Senior Research Scientist, Dr Jarrod Bailey, just published a review in the scientific journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA), highlighting the effects of stress and distress in animals in labs.
His research supports what should be obvious: keeping animals in unnatural, restricted environments, preventing natural behaviours, and subjecting them to invasive, often uncomfortable and painful experiments, causes them substantial stress. While there are sometimes efforts to reduce suffering, not all types of stress can be reduced, nor the animals habituated or desensitised to them.
While some stress is a natural (and beneficial) part of life, Dr Bailey argues that the transient, natural stress of searching for food and shelter, avoiding predators and so on, is a world away from the unrelenting stress of laboratory life for animals. They may be transported from place to place; handled, sometimes roughly, by various and unfamiliar lab staff; restrained for procedures such as frequent blood draws and gavage (tubes inserted down the throat to introduce substances into the stomach); they live in cages that may be barren or crowded, with unusual lighting, noises, odours, and from which they may see their cage-mates undergoing experiments or even being killed.
Psychological consequences are clear. Many animals exhibit stereotypies: repetitive, invariant behaviour patterns with no obvious goal or function that reveal psychological damage; some animals self-harm. On top of these welfare issues are consequences for science itself. Animal behaviour and physiology are affected, and therefore so are results from experiments studying those animals.
Varied and powerful biological mechanisms are involved, impacting immune function, nervous and cardiovascular systems, and many more—hardly ideal when attempting to obtain good quality—and human relevant—data. While there is resistance to acknowledging some of this, scientific bodies such as the US National Research Council agree.
Dr Bailey said, “There is only one course of action: moving away from animal research—with its lack of human relevance across the board in any case—and toward humane and more human-relevant forms of research as a matter of urgency. I hope the publication of my comprehensive review will help to open the door to much-needed debate of this issue. Both animals and humans stand to benefit.”